Rovers have today announced the departure of highly-rated central defender, Ash Phillips, who has joined Premier League side, Tottenham Hotspur on a deal until 2028, for an undisclosed fee rumoured to be in the region of £2 million with future add-ons.
Whilst Rovers did manage to tie down the then-17-year-old prospect to a three-year deal, which was set to expire in the summer of 2025, an apparent £2 million release clause within his first professional deal alerted Premier League clubs with Daniel Levy and Ange Postecoglu winning the race for the sought-after defender.
Despite the security of the contract following protracted negotiations, which was signed in September 2022, Rovers were unable to offer the teenager – who turned 18 towards the end of June 2023 – longer than a three-year extension due to an EFL rule but do stand to curb the recent run of letting assets leave on free transfers.
The England under-19 captain, who has worked his way up the Three Lions’ youth ranks to hit six caps for the under-19s leaves Ewood Park having made just eight first-team appearances, despite being a regular feature on Rovers’ bench under Jon Dahl Tomasson. The defender has spent the past few years training amongst the first-team at Brockhall, having been first brought into a matchday squad in January 2022, by ex-boss Tony Mowbray, who gave Phillips – then 16 – a spot on the bench in a 3-2 defeat in the FA Cup Third Round at Wigan Athletic.
That first taste of the action saw Phillips determined to try and show his quality in an attempt to break through at Ewood Park, but the youngster had to bide his time as a change in the dugout and an emphasis on youth emerged with Tomasson including Phillips in the matchday squads of nine of his first ten games as manager, as he played four, making his Championship debut – playing 71 minutes in a 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion – which came just four days after his professional and Ewood Park debut as he played 90 minutes and kept a clean-sheet in a 4-0 EFL Cup First Round victory over Hartlepool United. After his maiden league bow against West Brom, Phillips played 90 minutes away at Reading in a 3-0 defeat, 72 minutes in another 3-0 defeat at Sheffield United and 79 minutes back at Ewood Park in a 1-0 loss to Stoke City as he was thrown into the deep end, to replace the injured Scott Wharton as Rovers suffered an inconsistent start to 2022-23.
After penning his first professional deal in September 2022, Phillips would go onto start in a 2-1 away win against Middlesbrough, before three cameo appearances against Birmingham City, Rotherham United and Queens Park Rangers, alongside three FA Cup outings and three EFL Cup appearances, which totalled his 2022-23 gametime to 14 games and 721 minutes at just 17 years of age, which will no doubt set him in good stead for the future.
Phillips will undoubtedly look forward to moving down south with the aim of asserting himself as a key future asset for the North London side, but will most likely have to bide his time in the youth categories or face a spell out on loan, hoping to take advantage of the potential loss of form of defenders or a chance to showcase his talents, particularly with pre-season in full swing, given Ange Postecoglu’s openness to give youth a chance, following his track record of such at Celtic in Scotland and Brisbane Roar in the A-League.
Whilst Rovers and their fans will be disappointed to lose the defender, who was known around the town for having a high potential ceiling, the upper echelons at Ewood Park will be looking to try and utilise their cash windfall to try and improve the current squad and aid Jon Dahl Tomasson’s quest to add squad depth.
Ash spoke to RoversTV prior to his departure, heaping praise on the setup in place at Rovers:
“I want to thank the club for everything they’ve done for me, because without the club I wouldn’t be getting this move.
“I’ve been here since I was 12 years old and from the Academy all the way up to the senior team it’s been a great experience and I appreciate everything everyone has done for me.
“All the players and staff behind the scenes have helped me so much both on and off the pitch, and I just want to say thank you for my development so far. I’ve matured so much at a young age and it really means a lot.
“Blackburn Rovers will always have a place in my heart and I wish the club all the best going forward.”
Good Luck, Ash!